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Region's largest community solar project powers up in Melville

The region’s largest community solar rooftop installation began producing energy in Melville last month in a big boost to the solar market that also promises power discounts for those who might otherwise have missed the solar revolution.

Karp Associates, a Melville-based manufacturer of access doors and bathroom partitions, created a new division called Helios Power to begin selling subscriptions to the new solar-power generation from its nearly 200,000-square-foot rooftop, said George Kosser, director of Helios and a Karp vice president.

"Subscribers" of the new community solar power output buy their energy from Helios instead of PSEG, paying an average of 18.5 cents a kilowatt-hour for the power, compared with the average 21 cents from PSEG, Kosser said. They receive a monthly bill from Helios for the power supply and an average $14 bill from PSEG for their monthly service charge.

"It’s as if they had solar panels on their roofs," Kosser said. The plan, he said, is to market the system to customers who heat with electricity, because their usage tends to be higher, and the guaranteed savings of 10% or more over LIPA bills potentially greater. "They can save $500 to $600 a year," he said.

The solar array will generate up to 2.2 million kilowatt-hours of power a year, enough to supply all the power needs of around 225 residential customers, Kosser said. At that level, the system also can produce upward of $500,000 in annual revenue for Karp and Helios, helping the system pay down its approximately $2 million net cost (after tax credits and other incentives) in five years or less. Before credits, the system cost $3.5 million and the new roof cost around $500,000, Kosser said.

Scott Maskin, chief executive of SUNation Solar Systems of Ronkonkoma, which designed and installed the array over the past two years, said the big project came online despite pandemic-related challenges.

"This project was smack dab in the middle of COVID," Maskin said, including construction lockdowns and other issues that were eventually resolved, including working with PSEG to connect it to the grid.

"Interconnection of distributed generation is always a challenge, especially with systems of this size," said Maskin. Karp’s new 1.7 megawatt rooftop solar array includes 4,428 panels on two large portions of Karp’s roof.

In the Helios model, subscribers sign a contract for one to five years of discounted power from the arrays, Maskin said, with the bigger discounts for longer subscriptions.

Mike Bailis, a former SUNation executive who worked on the Karp project before his recent retirement, said the project is also the company’s first use of bifacial solar panels, which allow some sunlight to pass through them and reflect off the roof to gain another 7% to 8% in efficiency. The panels are made by LG Solar.

The Karp array may soon have a rival for the title of largest community solar array on Long Island. A 2-megawatt installation is scheduled to come online next month in Holbrook, said David Schieren, chief executive of EmPower Solar of Island Park, which installed the system on the rooftop of Holbrook manufacturer Four Seasons Sunrooms.

In all community solar installations, customers keep their existing power connection to the LIPA grid so that there is no loss of power when solar systems aren’t producing, at night or on cloudy days, Maskin said. Excess power generated during periods of high availability of sunlight can be "banked" and used to offset use of the grid power when the sun isn’t available.

Karp’s manufacturing facility isn’t drawing power from the array.

SUNation has completed nine community solar projects to date and has three or four in the pipeline for future completion.

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